Easter Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:59 pm on 29th March 2018.

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Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham 3:59 pm, 29th March 2018

This afternoon, I should like to talk about a subject that has been much in the news recently—namely, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence. I also want to talk about the Royal Air Force Regiment, which currently has key responsibility for protecting us in the United Kingdom. I gather that the RAF Regiment was hugely instrumental in cleaning up after the Salisbury chemical weapon attack recently. Since the second world war, the RAF has had the service lead for defending us against nuclear, biological and chemical—NBC—attacks. In 2002, the collective term was widened to include radiological attacks and thus became chemical, biological. radiological and nuclear—CBRN—defence. The RAF NBC defence capability has always been vested in 27 Squadron of the RAF Regiment. Coincidentally, that squadron was once commanded by Jock Stewart MC, who happens to be my father. I am proudly wearing an RAF Regiment tie today, because I have the real privilege of being an honorary companion of the RAF Regiment officers’ dinner club.

Apart from EU countries, states in all other continents have often sent delegations to the UK to view our RAF Regiment’s specialist capabilities with a view to replicating them in their own countries. I will not attempt to name them, as there might be security implications. RAF Regiment specialist CBRN personnel provided unique assistance to the Japanese Government and other national embassies and agencies in radiation monitoring during the Fukushima nuclear incident in 2011. As I have mentioned, their expertise was also deployed to Salisbury recently.

Following the strategic defence and security review in 2015, the decision was taken to transfer the specialist CBRN defence capability to the Army. To me, that decision lacks logic, and I hope it can be stopped. The current modernising defence programme—a mini-defence review in any other terms—provides for a timely reassessment of the required specialist CBRN defence capabilities and the opportunity to challenge the SDSR 2015 decision. The RAF Regiment has amassed considerable CBRN defence knowledge, skills and expertise over many decades, and it is the acknowledged leader in CBRN defence operations in the international community.

I will lose many Army friends by saying this, but I think that the transfer of the specialist CBRN capability from the RAF to the Army could introduce significant risks to the UK’s defence and security during a time of extreme uncertainty. I believe that the Ministry of Defence may wish to reconsider the wisdom of the planned transfer from the RAF to the Army and I very much hope that this capability will stay with the Royal Air Force Regiment, which has long-term proven expertise. Also, it is the one organisation that is judged to be a world leader in its class. Mr Speaker, I want to say thank you to you, your Deputy Speakers, the Clerks and all the staff of this great establishment for putting up with me for so long. I will now give you a break by going away and shutting up for two weeks. Thank you.